Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Vegan Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Crêpe Lettuce Wrap)

Warning:  This is a looong blog and recipe.  This is  because I provided several options (including a gluten-free option) so  readers can pick and choose what to use and which to follow.  Don't be afraid!  The recipe is actually pretty simple.  If you watch the video and try it, with a bit of practice making the crêpe, it is actually not that hard.  I make this dish all the time and it is delicious!

Bánh Xèo, pronounced 'bun say-o', translated to 'sizzling cake', is a unique southern-style Vietnamese Crêpe dish.   I call it Vietnamese Crêpe Lettuce Wrap (say that a few times as a tongue twister).   It is a lettuce wrap because of the way it is eaten, wrapped in lettuce with fresh herbs and vegetables and then dunked into a sauce.  It is so DELICIOUS and SAVORY that you want it again and again.  I decided to veganize it based on conversations I had recently with my out-of-state vegetarian friend, Yongkie, whom just ordered this dish for the first time in a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant and was excited to learn to make it at home.

Yongkie and I both agreed that this is a dish that is so MESSY to eat.  Just like eating tacos, you will need to learn how to eat it without getting your hands all sticky and nasty with food juices.  It is a dish that we all feel more comfortable to eat at home in front of your family members.   Definitely, I would not recommend  this dish if you are on a date in a restaurant. :-)

Although I have made this dish at home several times, I learned that it is hard to describe how to make it to a person who lives out-of-state.  I searched for several youtube videos and sent them to describe the process of making bánh xèo, traditionally.  The recipes in the videos are not vegetarian nor vegan but what is important is to learn the techniques in preparing the batter, cooking the filling,  timing and cooking the crêpe, and eating it (wrapping in a lettuce and dunking it into the sauce).  Therefore, if you replace the filling and the fish sauce ingredients with what I suggested in my recipe, you will be able to prepare a vegan bánh xèo at home.

This youtube video by yummies4dummies is the one I really like.  Tina Pham is also so funny and energetic (the slo-mo near the end cracks me up).  Check out this Bánh Xèo video from yummies4dummies.  Her recipe and techniques are right on.  Yongkie told me that he watched it twice before he made it.  After replacing the filling and sauce ingredients with vegetarian ingredients,  the technique worked for him.  He said that it will be easier to make it next time after his first attempt.  My only critique of the video is that I thought Tina poured too much batter into her frying pan.  I think  less batter is better for a thinner crêpe which then becomes crispier.  The video plays about 9 minutes but you have to see it till the end when she showed us how to eat bánh xèo and you'll know what I mean by MESSY.

The batter Tina and Yongkie used was made from a pre-mixed flour you can buy at a Vietnamese market.  It is called Bánh Xèo flour.  This is one example:

It usually has the picture of the crêpe in front of it so it is not that hard to find.  I suggested to Yongkie to make it with a pre-mixed flour because it is the easiest for the first timer.  However, the pre-mixed flour usually contains 'all white' flour.  Like all food that is made using white flour only, it raises your blood sugar high and then drop it quickly.  One becomes hungry again too quickly.  The ingredients listed on the bag is rice flour, cornstarch, turmeric, and tapioca.  Another brand I found in the market has some wheat flour in it  (not whole wheat).  If you are trying to avoid gluten, you'll have to read the ingredients carefully.

If you are trying to avoid WHITE flour, I suggest another option, a healthier option:  Bryanna Clark Grogan's Sizzling Saigon Crepe batter from her latest cookbook World Vegan Feast published by Vegan Heritage Press on August 8, 2011.  

You can buy this wonderful cookbook from  I own one and use it often.  In fact, I was her Vegan Feast subscriber and tried so many of her vegan recipes including this one.  The good news for gluten-free vegan folks, Bryanna's batter is GLUTEN-FREE.  Bryanna let me blog her batter recipe which contains soaked split mung beans and brown rice flour.  There are extra steps to do but by using this batter, you'll feel that there is an extra 'uumph' after you eat it because it is more filling and nutritious.  

The dipping sauce traditionally is made with fish sauce. I veganized it by using Vegetarian 'Fish' sauce or Soy Sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos which both fermented naturally and salty.    I also listed 3 different dipping sauce recipes and you can choose what you would like to use.  I prefer a dipping sauce that has a lot of fresh lime juice, a bit sweet, and spicy (hot).  Yongkie likes it on the sweet taste with a small amount of lime juice or vinegar and not spicy at all.  Bryanna's sauce is also great and not as  spicy.

Vegan Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Crêpe Lettuce Wrap)
Serve 4-6 (or 4-6 crêpes)   Choose Batter No. 1 or 2 and Dipping Sauce no. 1, 2, or 3.

Vegetable oil
Natural oil spray in a can
8-inches or 10-inches non-stick frying pan

Batter No. 1(adapted from Tina Pham, using pre-mixed flour):
12 oz Bánh Xèo flour  (1 package)
 Note: if there is no salt and sugar in the ingredients list, add 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar for extra flavors
1/2 tsp. Tumeric
1 tsp. Vietnamese curry powder, optional
 Note: Vietnamese curry powder can be bought in a Vietnamese market, it looks like this:

14 oz. Coconut milk or light coconut milk
3 cups water
1/2 cup chopped green onions


Batter No.2(adapted from Bryanna Clark Grogan's Sizzling Saigon Crepe), gluten-free:
3/4 cup moong dal (split and skinned mung beans)

1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
2 cups coconut milk or light coconut milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. Vietnamese curry powder, optional  (see description and picture in batter no. 1)
1/2 cup chopped green onions

2 cups vegan smoked ham or vegan shrimp or  baked tofu or regular firm tofu, sliced
Note:  my favorite is the vegan smoked ham because of it's smoky flavor
2 cups onions, sliced
2 cups cremini mushrooms or baby bella mushrooms or brown enoki mushrooms, sliced
2 cups red bell pepper, sliced
2 cups bean sprouts
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
salt and black pepper

Dipping Sauce No. 1, on the mild and sweet side, Yongkie's recipe:
1/2 cup vegetarian soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/3 cup shredded carrots

Dipping Sauce No. 2, sweet and sour, Bryanna's recipe:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp (or more to taste) Vietnamese chili sauce
1/4 cup vegetarian soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 small carrot, finely-grated

Dipping sauce no.3, sweet, sour, and spicy, my recipe:
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
1/3 cup vegetarian soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 fresh serrano chili or Thai chili, minced
Note: for less hot, use 1/2 of a chili

Fresh Vegetables:
1 head red leaf or green leaf lettuce
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh mint
1 English cucumber, french cut slices
1 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and shredded  mixed with 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and 2 tsp. salt
Note: You can make the pickled carrots 1 hour ahead a day ahead, set it in a room temperature, then drained before serving.

Step 1, making the batter
To make the batter with pre-mix bag of flour (batter no. 1), just mix them all together in a bowl (like in the video).
To make batter no. 2:  Cover the moong dal with water to cover and soak for 30 minutes.  Drain them and place in the blender with the remaining batter ingredients.  Blend until VERY smooth.  Set aside (in the blender container) in the refrigerator until time to cook.

Step 2, making the sauce:
Choose  dipping sauce no. 1, 2, or 3 recipe.  Combine all ingredients together in a bowl, stir to mix well.

Step 3, preparing the vegetables:
Arrange the vegetables in a large platter like this:

Step 4, making the crêpes(see video for the demo), for each crêpe:
Sauteing the filling
Adding bean sprouts
  1. Heat non-stick frying pan in a medium heat, put 2 tsp. vegetable oil.
  2. Grab about 2-3 tbsp. sliced onions and 1/2 tsp minced garlic.  Throw them into the heated pan, saute.
  3. Add 2 tbsp each sliced mushrooms, red bell pepper slices, and the protein slices (whether it is veggie ham, tofu, or veggie shrimp).
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue pan frying until a bit brown.  Spread the filling in a single layer in the frying pan.
  5. Pour 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup batter and swirl around the pan until the batter is spread thinly covering the filling ingredients.
  6. Immediately cover with a lid tightly and set timer to 4-5 minutes.
  7. Remove lid,  add 1/4 bean sprouts in half of the crêpe.  Cover tightly again and set timer for 2 minutes.
  8. Flip crêpe, the half without the bean sprouts, over the bean sprouts.  Slide it out to a serving plate and serve immediately.  The crêpe  should be eaten immediately.
    Note: Since there are only 2 of us at home, I usually store the batter in the fridge for the next meal.  It works well and is better than eating the leftover crêpe the next day.

Think about the possibility of a Bánh Xèo party with your friends.  With portable butane gas stoves and non-stick frying pans, each guest can take turn making his or her own crêpe and learn something new.